LUDINGTON, Mich. — Work to build the Ludington Pumped Storage plant started 50 years ago this June. However, a license allowing Consumers Energy and DTE to operate the facility expires on June 30.
The unique hydroelectric plant, at one time, was the largest of its kind in the world. It's now the fourth largest.
Some drivers rushing past the massive berm on the west side of US-31, just south of Ludington likely don't know it's a man-made reservoir capable of holding up to 27-billion gallons of Lake Michigan.
"In real terms, it's a battery," said Brian Zatloukal, Operations and Maintenance Manager at the Ludington Pumped Storage for Consumers Energy.
The 840-acre body of water, roughly three-times the size of Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids, has the ability to produce enough electricity to meet the needs of a community three times the size of Kent County.
In 1959, Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison began designing the hydroelectric plant. Construction started a decade later and the plant began commercial operation in 1973.
"This is unique site. It's different; there aren't a lot of them around," Zatloukal said.
When power costs are low, billions of gallons of Lake Michigan are pumped uphill into the reservoir. The water is stored there until power is a higher cost. It's then the water is released and allowed to travel downhill, spinning six turbines to create electricity.
"It's slightly different based on the season, but generally, we'll generate during the day and pump at night," Zatloukal said.
The electricity is sold to the regional transmission grid.
Consumers Energy and DTE are replacing all six turbines. It's an $800-million investment that will allow the facility to generate more electricity and operate more efficient.
The five-year process of relicensing the facility should be completed in June.
The property is surrounded by fence and considered a secure facility. Consumers Energy offers the public views of the property from access points on Lakeshore Drive. One overlook offers visitors views of the powerhouse.
A paved walkway to the upper reservoir is open during summer months.
In the spring, workers affix a net in front of the intake pipe to keep fish from being sucked into the reservoir.
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